Science-- there's something for everyone

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Things aren’t always what they seem, DNA edition

This story is cool for a number of reasons, not least of which because it involves high school students doing real science.

Brenda Tan and Matt Cost of Trinity School, Manhattan spent four months collecting DNA from every kind of sample they could think of. They tested foods, bird feathers, insects, horse manure, dog treats, you name it, and sent the samples to scientists at Rockefeller University and the American Museum of Natural History. 151 out of the 217 items they collected had useable DNA.

The DNA 'barcoding' experts sent the recovered DNA codes back to the students, who could then paste them into the Barcode of Life Database (BOLD). Over 65,000 species are currently in that database with more being added all the time.

Tan and Cost found a great deal of discrepancy between food labels and what was actually in the food.

Among their findings:

  • an expensive specialty 'sheep's milk' cheese was actually made from cow's milk
  • 'venison' dog treats were made of beef
  • 'sturgeon caviar' was actually Mississippi paddlefish
  • 'frozen Yellow catfish' was really the invasive Walking catfish
  • ‘dried shredded squid' was actually jumbo flying squid (Dosidicus gigas).

They also discovered some interesting fauna, including a cockroach that may be new to science. If so, the students might get to name it.

You can follow their adventures here.